Planned Parenthood Fights to Ban Undercover Reporting in California

A Planned Parenthood facility in St. Paul, MN (photo credit: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
A Planned Parenthood facility in St. Paul, MN (photo credit: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Last week, the California Assembly voted to pass AB 1671, a state bill which would make it illegal to covertly record a health care professional and publicize that recording without the consent of all parties involved. Although the bill has yet to pass the California Senate, it is already generating a great deal of controversy in the state. While its proponents are arguing that it is a necessary step in securing privacy protections for health professionals, its many detractors counter that it is a threat to the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of the press (among other concerns).

Journalists in California and pro-life leaders — not usually allies — have both expressed concern over the broad implications of AB 1671. Thomas Peele, an investigative reporter in San Jose, Calif., warned that AB 1671 “should have First Amendment advocates, journalists…gravely concerned,” as it would create possible legal consequences for investigating and publishing suspected illegal activity in a healthcare setting. Pro-life leaders, for their part, see this as an action aimed specifically at protecting Planned Parenthood. Lila Rose, president of Live Action, said that, “Rather than be more transparent with the public, Planned Parenthood wants to make it a crime for the media to publish evidence that it might be doing something illegal.” She and other pro-life leaders have spoken out against AB 1671, asserting that it could prevent reporting of illegal activities, including child abuse and human trafficking.

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC), on the other hand, celebrated the bill’s passage in a press release issued last Wednesday, praising it as a way to prevent further investigative journalism into their activities: “Last year Planned Parenthood was the subject of a video smear campaign by an anti-abortion front group that illegally taped the private conversations of our doctors and other staff without their consent. This group then spliced together shards of longer conversations to fabricate short videos that spread lies about Planned Parenthoods and posted those videos on the internet for millions to see.”

But Planned Parenthood’s involvement in this legislative effort went far beyond simply cheering from the sidelines. Jimmy Gomez, the assemblyman who introduced the bill, was presented by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles with the “Champion of Choice” award in 2015, and he received contributions totaling $13,500 from Planned Parenthood for his election campaigns in 2014 and 2016. Clearly, Planned Parenthood has a vested interest in keeping the public from seeing further into their doors.

So rather than permit the possibility of more information about how PPAC conducts itself being uncovered, the California Assembly has voted to threaten free press. Priorities are certainly out of alignment in Sacramento.

Kevin Dawson is Deputy Operations Manager for the American Principles Project.